I love this story by Lisa Gray.
When Jim Fletcher asked his fiancee whether she’d mind if he grew a beard, Madge Boyer didn’t realize what she was getting into.
That was in early 2007, not long after he’d played Santa for his civic club Christmas party. In the red suit, he wasn’t just a retired product quality engineer. He was the party’s focus, the object of children’s adoration and adult smiles. Madge, who’d played Mrs. Claus, had a good time, too. But she thought that was that.
As his beard grew in, though, Jim began to wear red every day: Red suspenders, red sneakers, red shorts, polo shirts with candy-cane stripes, even a red business suit. He traded in the costume-shop Santa suit for tailor-made editions. His belt buckles said “SANTA.” He hand-carved an elaborate walking cane and, for formal occasions, a tall staff emblazoned with reindeer.
When working in the yard, he’d add a red cap to his regular work clothes. If he had to drop by the hardware store, he’d shower first and change into an outfit worthy of his station.
He studied “Behind the Red Suit,” a book about the business side of Santa-hood. At a Dallas seminar hosted by the International University of Santa Claus, he learned Santa history and lore, as well as the fine points of beard maintenance. He swore the Santa Claus oath, promising to use his powers to “create happiness, spread love and make fantasies come to life.” He printed business cards with a number for his “sleigh phone.” During the off-season, he kept his 100-year-old mahogany Santa throne by the living-room fireplace.
When Jim and Madge went to restaurants, children’s heads swiveled. He’d leave her at the table and go talk to every kid in the place. On the freeway, admirers snapped photos of him behind the wheel of his red pickup, with its CLAUS license plates. “It was like being with a movie star,” Madge says. “I didn’t like it at first.”
But Jim was no longer just Jim; he’d become Santa Jim. Santa was part of the Jim Fletcher package.
After the holidays, the Fletchers spend a surprising amount of time in the company of other Claus couples. In Jim’s first year as a Santa, he helped launch Lone Star Santas, a fraternal organization open to Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, elves and reindeer herders. The first meeting, in Brenham, attracted about five Santas. Now, with roughly 120, it’s one of the biggest regional Santa groups in the country.
It’s an inclusive group, Jim says proudly. Some Santa organizations limit membership to real-beard Santas, but Lone Star Santas has at least two “skin chins” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (Their day jobs don’t permit facial hair.) Membership includes Hispanic Santas, at least one black Santa and a couple of gay ones. “We even had one gal – a rotund, jolly gal – who talked to us about joining as a Santa, not a Mrs. Claus,” Jim says. “She didn’t end up joining. But as long as someone passes the background check, pays their dues and has the spirit of Christmas, that’s all we care about.”
This. That’s what it’s all about. It’s what Santa Claus stands for, not what he – or she – looks like. I could quote the whole thing, but I’ll hold back. Just go read it and feel good about the spirit of giving that makes Santa Claus what he is.